Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) is a vital component of modern air defense systems. It provides a comprehensive and integrated view of the battlefield, enabling friendly aircraft to operate effectively and neutralize potential threats. AWACS is essentially a flying radar platform that can detect aircraft, missiles, and ships at ranges of hundreds of kilometers away. This system allows friendly aircraft to detect and engage hostile targets before they can cause damage. One of the key features of AWACS is its ability to communicate with other friendly aircraft in the air, on the ground, and at sea. This enables it to provide early warning and vectoring assistance to fighter aircraft and other assets, increasing the overall situational awareness of the battlefield.
After the invention of the radar and its usage during WW2, military officials tried new ways of using this new weapon. In the 1930s the British developed a radar set that could be carried on an aircraft for what they termed ”Air Controlled Interception”. The name was later changed to AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System). After Royal Air Force equipped Vickers Wellington and Bristol Beaufighters, in February 1944, US Navy ordered the development of a radar system that could be carried aloft in an aircraft under Project Cadillac. A prototype system was built and flown in August on a modified TBM Avenger torpedo bomber. Tests were successful, with the system being able to detect low-flying formations at a range greater than 100 miles (160 km). There was a later development called Cadillac II, a program where multiple Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress bombers were outfitted with the same radar. The airplane, which first flew in 1949, served widely with US Air Force and US Navy. It provided the main AEW coverage for US forces during the Vietnam war. It remained operational until replaced with the E-3 AWACS. Lockheed WV and EC-121 Warning Star, which first flew in 1949, served widely with US Air Force and US Navy. It provided the main AEW coverage for US forces during the Vietnam war. It remained operational until it was replaced with the E-3 AWACS.
Nowadays, Boeing produces a specific system with a rotating radar dome (rotodome) that incorporates a Northrop Grumman radar. There are two variations made by Boeing: E-3 Sentry, which is a Boeing 707, and Boeing E-767, the latter only being used by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. When AWACS first entered service it represented a major advance in capability, being the first AEW to use a pulse-Doppler radar, which allowed it to track targets normally lost in the ground clutter. Previously, low-flying aircraft could be readily tracked only over water. The AWACS features a three-dimensional radar that measures azimuth, range, and elevation simultaneously; the unit installed upon the E-767 has superior surveillance capability over water compared to the AN/APY-1 system on the earlier E-3 models.
There are also some other models that use propellers like the E-2 Hawkeye, which has a new APY-9 radar. It can detect fighter-sized stealth aircraft, which are typically optimized against high frequencies like Ka, Ku, X, C and parts of the S bands. Historically, UHF radars had resolution and detection issues that made them ineffective for accurate targeting and fire control; Northrop Grumman and Lockheed claim that the APY-9 has solved these shortcomings in the APY-9 using advanced electronic scanning and high digital computing power via space/time adaptive processing.
Other variations are Indian Netra which uses a Brazilian Embraer EMB-145 that was delivered in 2015, the Boeing 737 AEW&C which is used by The Royal Australian Air Force, the Republic of Korea Air Force , and the Turkish Air Force, while The Swedish Air Force uses the S 100D Argus ASC890 which is based on a Saab 340 fitted with an Ericsson Erieye PS-890 radar. The same radar is used on the Embraer R-99 by The Hellenic Air Force, Brazilian Air Force , and Mexican Air Force. Moreover, there are some Helicopter AEW systems the Sikorsky CH-37 Mojave, the British Sea King ASaC7 naval helicopter , and the latest AgustaWestland EH-101A AEW.
AEW&C systems are capable of detecting aircraft at distances of up to 400 km (220 nautical miles), which is beyond the range of most surface-to-air missiles. When flying at 9,000 m (30,000 ft), a single AEW&C aircraft can cover an area of 312,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi). By using three AEW&C aircraft in overlapping orbits, it is possible to cover the entirety of Central Europe. These systems enable communication with friendly aircraft and can provide vectoring assistance to fighters when engaging hostile aircraft or other unidentified flying objects. Additionally, they extend the sensor range of friendly aircraft and can make offensive aircraft harder to track, since they no longer need to keep their own radar active (which could potentially be detected by the enemy) to detect threats.
AWACS is also capable of providing detailed information on targets, including their location, altitude, and speed. This allows friendly aircraft to quickly identify and engage potential threats with precision. Another critical feature of AWACS is its ability to operate in all weather conditions, including heavy rain, snow, and fog. This ensures that the system can maintain its capabilities in adverse weather conditions, enabling it to provide continuous support to friendly aircraft and ground forces.
Overall, AWACS is a crucial component of modern air defense systems, providing an invaluable capability to detect, track, and engage potential threats. Its advanced sensor suite, communication capabilities, and all-weather performance make it a formidable asset in any military operation.